It is said that one who fails to prepare should prepare to fail, and it certainly rings true in art.
When preparing for a major studio painting the preliminary part could take just as long as the painting itself, if not longer. From field studies to numerous sketches, building a solid foundation will pay dividends down the road.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dove in with work in the past only to find short comings because I failed to properly analyze the whole scene. Since then I’ve almost always done a quick color study of the subject
I am doing. In this way I can see how everything works together, from different values to color temperature and composition. This is something you just can not see by just looking at a photo.
Let me show you what I mean: In figure one below I’ve painted a quick 30 minute sketch of the subject matter. Doing so I was able to determine whether the position of the model is optimal… Also if I like the color balance…And numerous other details. I have to admit that I probably should have painted the rest of the scene so I can gauge everything; however the main painting was by no means large or complex so I chose not to. As it stands I did not end up changing much in figure two except that I warmed up the model quite alot more.
So remember; take the time to research your subject. You’ll find that you make mistakes less and less.
I painted a quick study of my wife putting on her makeup. The whole painting was done using only the primary colors with raw umber and white. The three primaries that I used are cadmium red light, cadmium yellow light and ultramarine blue.
Using a limited palette forces you to mix your own colors instead of having one pre-made; and in doing so you have a track as to how you came up to a particular color. Some old masters went as far as to only use primaries in all their work. One of them was Anders Zorn who used only ivory black, yellow ochre, cadmium red light and white. In theory you should be able to mix all other colors from just those three primaries with black and white.
I did a painting today to demonstrate a couple of key important points.
Firstly whether your work is painted in high key or low key, make sure you keep the areas of shadow or light limited to a few large areas. Try to stay away from having to many small unattractive areas of light or shadow as this usually leads to an overly busy work of art.
Secondly, be mindful of what the abstract shapes in your work of art look like. Try to see in only a couple of values. Or if you are working from photographs, you may alter a photo on any photo editing software to render an image in two values. By doing this it allows you to see how beautiful the underlying shapes are. This will usually lead to a beautiful work of art. I will address this in a future post in more detail.
Even though my work is a quick gestural study it has strong lines as well as a well defined light and shadow areas. Interestingly enough I might use this as a reference for a future larger studio painting.